Rochester agreed this week to pay a police officer $1 million to settle a discrimination and retaliation claim after she reported possible department bias against a fellow officer.
Police Lt. Elisa Umpierre, 51, was the city’s first female officer when she was hired in 1992. She filed the claim after she said she was suspended for comments she made on Facebook, including one in support of protesters at Standing Rock and another regarding excessive force by police officers.
She said the department questioned her posts only after she met with her supervisor to discuss possible bias against a minority officer who repeatedly had been denied advancement.
Her supervisor later told her there was no bias, she said Tuesday. “That they didn’t investigate is a violation of the human rights statute,” Umpierre said. The minority officer, a six-year veteran, was well-qualified and lost the job to a white male officer who had been in the department for one year, she said.
Jana O’Leary Sullivan, an attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities, which insures Rochester, said data privacy laws prevent her from commenting on a complaint filed in fall 2016 against Umpierre. She said the complaint resulted in no discipline against Umpierre.
She also declined to discuss the specifics of the claim Umpierre filed against the city.
“The city denies any wrongdoing,” O’Leary Sullivan said. The city agreed to settle the case to avoid the expense and uncertainty of protracted litigation, she said.
The $1 million settlement covers about five years of salary and pension contributions for Umpierre, who agreed to retire immediately from her job. Insurance will cover $200,000 of the settlement; the city will cover $800,000, O’Leary Sullivan said.
Umpierre, who’s gay and married to a woman, said she’s always been politically active and vocal. “But none of this mattered until I reported three male officers for the possibility of bias,” she said.
Umpierre’s attorneys noted that the police chief didn’t fire other officers for their Facebook posts with anti-protest and anti-Muslim content.
Umpierre argues the city discriminated and retaliated against her for speaking out “in a manner they didn’t like. I’m willing to challenge the status quo in the police department.”
No longer a police officer, she said she will push for changes in police training, saying it should include more cultural sensitivity and better understanding of marginalized populations and socio-economic influences on crime.
“Officers get into their own little bubble and think it’s us in blue against everyone else on the street,” Umpierre said. “Anyone who we stop for speeding or deal with we need to treat them as though they might kill us. It perpetuates fear before there’s any contact in the hearts and minds of officers.”
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788